Viewpoint - Making a mess of education

By: Matt King

The Government’s recent decision to strip polytechnics of all assets and send all power to a centralised polytechnic will be devastating for our region. Polytechnics and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) will be dissolved and merged into a national mega-polytechnic.

What’s more, the Government is going to use the $197 million left over from its failed fees-free policy to fund this disastrous merger. This in itself is a joke, as it won’t even cover the $400 million total cost of the Government’s reforms.

I was disappointed, but not shocked, to hear that the Government has ignored the Treasury’s warnings about this policy. The Treasury said that it is likely that the new model will not achieve the desired outcomes, and that this will have extreme impact.

The Treasury also noted that it’s almost certain that there will be workforce disruption and that the needs of industry, employers, and the regions will not be met. It categorised the impact of these as extreme. Language this strong in a report from Treasury is pretty rare, which shows what a huge mistake the Government is making.

While polytechnic cash assets (which were $58 million in 2018) will be ring-fenced to be spent locally, control will be exercised by the mega-polytechnic from its national office. Cash reserves may even be used to pay for the cost of the merger itself.  

I believe that local people are best placed to decide what courses to teach and how to teach them. National will return polytechnic decision-making back to our communities.

These reforms won’t “free up potential of [the] North”, as Education Minister Chris Hipkins says. This is just a fluff statement with no meaning. What the Government’s reforms will do is cut jobs in our tertiary institutions as governance and management roles are centralised.

Getting rid of ITOs is a huge mistake. They’ve been performing well and getting great results. The Government’s reforms are also expected to be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships. Employers have told me they will cease to employ apprentices next year if apprentices go back to polytechnics. This is a big step backwards, especially when our construction sector is crying out for apprentices.

Industry is the expert on industry. Rather than undermining the expertise of the regions, we should be building confidence and trust in them to deliver within their communities. We should be giving regional educators autonomy over what they teach and how they teach it.

The Government’s ‘we know best’ attitude will mean the organising of apprentices will be taken from industry who know the needs of Northland best, and instead given to one polytechnic. Chris Hipkins has brutally dismissed the concerns of industry and businesses who raised serious issues with polytechnic training.  

National’s approach is clear if elected in 2020; we will return the management of industry training to industry and return community assets back to communities.

Matt King, MP for Northland


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